Sustainability Part 2: Paper

Posted on April 22, 2010 by Lana Lile

The causes of world hunger are complex and inter-related. The single biggest cause of hunger is poverty. People keep themselves out of poverty by earning money. How do you earn money? You get a job. BUT…What if the job you get is dangerous? What if the only job available to you doesn’t pay enough to cover all of your expenses? What if it does, but the company you work for is polluting the environment or consuming natural resources at an alarming rate? Will you quit over it, knowing that if you do, you won’t have an income?

Individuals who are lucky enough to have choices of employment offers and/or some disposable income have a responsibility to consider how their choices affect the world and others who live here. But not all individuals are so privileged, and if faced with the choice of working for a polluting factory or eating, I’m going to eat now and worry about the pollution later, even if that pollution is a danger to me and my future employment. Businesses play an important role in building sustainable livelihoods. Arguably the best businesses find a way to earn a profit while also treating their employees well and not ruining the environment.

Perhaps one example of this type of business is Grays Harbor Paper, a small town paper mill located in Hoquiam, WA.  Formed to bring jobs back into the local community, Grays Harbor Paper is dedicated to increasing its sustainability as it focuses on people, paper and the planet.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie, Grays Harbor Paper’s Sustainability Coordinator. Her job includes over-seeing the biannual sustainability report (following reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative) and making sure that the company follows through on their sustainability promises. Jamie helped me understand a little bit about how an 82 year old mill site is giving back to the local community and the environment; thanks to a belief in sustainability’s economic, social and environmental benefits.

Grays Harbor Paper provides more than 230 full-time jobs

Caring for people and communities:

The original mill site was built in 1928 as the Grays Harbor Pulp Company and has changed hands over the decades. In 1992 the functioning pulp and paper mills on-site were closed and about 600 local jobs were lost. A year later, in 1993, Grays Harbor Paper was opened by local investors and as of 2008 reporting, 231 full-time jobs with benefits are in full swing (in a town of roughly 9,000 inhabitants.) The mill also houses a water treatment plant. Grays Harbor Paper’s 125 acre riverside location means that special care must be taken not to pollute the local waterways as nearby beach towns are historically supported by the fishing and crabbing industries. In addition, docks located close to the mill are a favorite spot for local recreational fishermen. All of the mill’s storm water, as well as water used in the paper manufacturing process, are sent into the water treatment system before being released into the natural environment. They also treat waste water from a neighboring fish protein plant.


Caring for the earth – an economic competitive advantage:

In 1997 the mill installed its first of three turbines which generate thermal and electrical energy from biomass. This carbon-neutral process was initially installed as a cost saving measure. Biomass comes from the wood waste of logging and clear cut sites in the forests found within a 20 mile radius of the mill. Normally, the wood waste would be burned on the logging site, releasing CO2 back into the environment, and preparing the land to be replanted. Today, Grays Harbor Paper collects this wood waste and brings it to the mill where it is burned to create the energy necessary to produce paper. It is considered carbon-neutral because the carbon released through burning is equal to that which the trees sequestered during their lifetime. While there is some debate over whether this waste should be left on the land to rot and return to the earth, using it as biomass keeps the methane which may be produced from it rotting out of the air, uses its energy to create a product and clears the land for replanting. Additionally, the scrubbers and filters present in the machinery at the mill allow the biomass to be burned slightly cleaner than it would in a forest environment. In addition to its carbon neutral energy, 30% of the mill’s paper is made from post-consumer recycled pulp. Harbor 100, their 100% recycled paper product, is “Green e” and “Forest Stewardship Council” certified. According to Grays Harbor Paper’s 2008 Sustainability Report “every ton of Harbor 100 produced saves an estimated 11, 847 gallons of water, 8 million BTUs of energy, 719 pounds of solid waste, and 2,460 pounds of greenhouse gases.” Harbor 40 is the other recycled option – it contains 40% post-consumer recycled pulp. Grays Harbor Paper purchases its pulp on the open market. The majority of its recycled pulp is trucked from a mill in Oregon, just 80 miles away. Other pulp is delivered by rail from the Midwest.

The on-site water treatment plant helps Grays Harbor Paper to be a good steward of their riverside location

It is also encouraging that other organizations are catching on to this recycled paper trend. Nike, the World Bank, the State of Washington and the International Monetary Fund all use Harbor 100. There are a number of paper mills who produce 100% recycled paper in the United States. Grays Harbor Paper is one example of an exciting and growing trend, but is going above and beyond with their use of biomass for power production.

Lessons:

It is important to remember employment’s relationship to hunger as well as a business’ relationship to the environment. As we purchase products in our everyday life, we must consider who we are supporting. Are the businesses behind the products that we buy concerned with ethical, environmental and social standards? When we support, lead or work for businesses which care for creation – God’s earth and people – we also support positive employment opportunities, helping more individuals to support themselves and their families. Also, the more sustainable a business, the more generations it can benefit.

Current book: Strategies for the Green Economy by Joel Makower…good stuff so far!

Today’s favorite link: www.waterbobble.com

Happy Earth Day ~ Lana

*ELCA World Hunger receives no incentives from any of the companies mentioned in this blog series. The writer has chosen each company based on their proximity, availability and their work toward green and/or sustainable practices.

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